It was nearing Halloween and there was a slight chill in the air. I was impatiently awaiting the arrival of our second child, a daughter. By now, Evelyn was considered late, reeaaallly late. And what made it worse was that we were all convinced that she was coming early. And she was so low. She was number two for me, and somewhere I had read that your belly doesn’t drop until the week beforehand after baby number one. Well, my belly dropped around week 35…and here we were at almost 42 weeks! So to say that I was ready for her to be born was a huge understatement.
I’d been having regular contractions for two weeks or so. They would be 2-3 minutes apart for a few hours, but would always stop when I laid down to sleep. Nothing really seemed to be moving it along. We were running out of time that I would be able to have a home birth, since a licensed midwife can’t deliver at home after 42 weeks. So at my appointment with our midwife, Pam, we decided that she would strip my membranes. I would also go home and drink a castor oil smoothie, something I was so determined I would never do! The idea of having diarrhea and labor at the same time seemed like such a bad idea. I had always silently mocked the “castor oil” crowd. (Didn’t they know that they should wait to go into labor naturally? Little did I know…)
Well I was eating my words at 41+5 and running out of time. I stood in my kitchen in front of my blender on a Friday afternoon where I was about to mix up a banana and castor oil delight, thinking, “Really God? Is this truly how you want my baby to come out?” I’d been holding out and silently believing for a miracle. My husband and I prayed together and in the end we both felt like it was the right thing to do. “At least I’ll be able to say that I did everything that I could,” I thought to myself.
I whipped up 4 ounces of castor oil with a banana and a half a cup of orange juice and went upstairs to the bathroom, looked at myself in the mirror and chugged it. Contrary to what I was expecting, it tasted delicious. I hunkered down in the bathroom with magazines, a nail kit and some scissors to trim my bangs when my husband came up with a package for me. My new essential oil diffuser had arrived just in time for my birth! My husband helped me get it plugged in and diffusing frankincense and clary sage.
My time in the bathroom was…anticlimactic. I expected that it would hit me like food poisoning, but almost nothing happened. I could hear my husband and son playing outside. Othniel, our 18 month old, was enjoying our newly irrigated lawn and kicking and splashing in the water. I looked out the window of our bedroom to the front yard to see if I could spot them and my first real contraction came. OK! That’s the feeling I’ve been waiting months for! I continued gazing out the window through a few more contractions, and found myself singing a bit. A low, oh sound that seemed to help my abdomen relax.
I grabbed my phone and started timing the contractions. They were 2-3 minutes apart, and lasting about a minute and a half. I called the midwife. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon. There was another labor progressing at Pam’s birth center, but there was another midwife on hand, so she told me she would head over to check me. Bryan came in from outside and I told him it looked like this was it. He put our son down for a nap and we excitedly started cleaning up and preparing the house. We had been waiting for this for so long, both of us so excited to meet our little girl, and me, very ready to not be pregnant anymore.
Savannah, our midwife’s assistant, arrived first and took my vitals while Bryan inflated the birth pool. Pam arrived and listened to the baby’s heartbeat. By this point I was singing pretty low and loud through each contraction, standing up and swaying and focusing on opening and moving the baby down. Evelyn’s heartbeat sounded low and I realized that I had been focusing so much on singing through the pain that I hadn’t been inhaling enough. I was getting enough air for myself, but I wasn’t the only one breathing through my lungs! I focused more on getting my lungs full and her heartbeat came right up and stayed strong.
We invited my mom over at this point. She and my husband were so important! They were right by my side the whole time, holding my hands, stroking my hair and helping me focus outward during the contractions. What a different labor this was compared to my last one! Last time I needed to go as far inward as I possibly could. I didn’t want to be touched or for anyone to talk. It was hard for me to even look at anyone. This time it helped so much for me to open my eyes and look outward and focus on something outside of myself, outside of the pain. I found their touch so comforting and reassuring.
I was getting ready to go into the birth pool. The water had been so helpful during my first birth. I was in the water through the last few centimeters, and it helped me manage the pain so much better. I was really looking forward to the warm water this go around. I got in and knelled down with my knees wide and rested my arms and face on the edge of the pool. Uh, oh! something about the relaxing warm water and I had to get to the bathroom quick! The castor oil was finally kicking in, and for the next 8 hours or so I had to run to the makeshift “toilet” my husband had constructed out of a 5 gallon bucket and a pool noodle (google it, it’s ingenious), as our only bathroom was upstairs. It was pretty frustrating because the water felt so good, but every time I got in I’d have to get right back out again. So, mostly I alternated between standing and swaying and laboring on the potty bucket. But, even amidst the awkwardness of diarrhea and the pain of labor, the atmosphere was really lovely. Worship music was playing, my new diffuser was diffusing and the room was filled with love and warm anticipation.
I can tell now, after the fact, that my expectations weren’t serving me during this pregnancy and labor. I was expecting her to come early, and that made waiting until 2 weeks past-due even harder. I was also expecting that this birth would be much easier and shorter than my first one. My mom’s second labor was only 5 hours, and I had that number in my head. As the hours were going by, I started to wonder if I wasn’t doing it right that she wasn’t born yet. It was starting to get late in the night, and then early in the morning. I laid down in my bed on my side with a stack of pillows between my knees. My mom was behind me, putting counter pressure on my lower back, and my husband was in front of me, holding my hand and stroking my hair. I would look deeply into his eyes during the contractions, until I couldn’t anymore. With Othniel, my son, I hadn’t experienced a ‘transition’ the way people describe it. I was in the warm water of my bathtub, deep in labor-land. I remember the hardest contraction, and I remember how powerful it made me feel. I hadn’t been afraid.
I had been focusing on relaxing and opening my body as much as I could during each contraction. I knew if I tensed up and resisted the contractions, they would be harder to manage. However, after 8 hours of laboring, I started losing my focus. I physically could not keep from clenching up as the pain from each contraction wracked my body and tightened my muscles involuntarily. It was at that point that I understood Philippians 4:13 as never before. I started to whisper the words as a prayer through the hardest contractions I have ever experienced. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I said each word slowly and I could feel His power moving over my body and unlocking my muscles, helping me relax. My heart moved toward Psalm 23 and I started to pray it as well. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not lack.” I prayed for Him to help my body relax and I could feel His tangible comfort and presence against my skin. My midwife had asked me to tell her at the start of each contraction. This one was long and hard…and then it was a double…and then a triple. I was experiencing transition. The point where you realize that you can’t do it. That your own strength isn’t enough. And at the same time I felt His strength come to me and pick up where my own strength fell short. I have never felt so close to Him, so helped by Him.
It was at that point that I knew it was time to get up and get out of bed. It was time to move. I stood up and walked to the end of my bed and put my hands on the foot board. As the contractions came I bent my knees and tried to sway my hips but in the pain I couldn’t move. The note that I was singing came out choppy, like it was getting stuck in my throat. “Where do you want to have your baby?” Pam asked. She could hear that my diaphragm was starting to push.
I moved back to the bed, but this time on hands and knees, facing the head board. My face was in the pillow and my hands gripped the rails of the mission style bed that my husband had built. As I started to sing through the contraction my note got louder and louder until I heard myself yelling. I could feel Evelyn moving down as my diaphragm strained with each note. With my son, pushing had been the easy part. Hardly painful, almost pleasurable even. Not so this time. The pain only escalated with each contraction. I was vocalizing louder and louder as she moved farther down and I could feel her head stretching me as she got closer to crowning. Pam told me to sit more upright as I pushed for the final time and she slid out, into my husband’s hands. He handed her to me through my legs and the whole team helped me get turned over onto my back. Evelyn lay on my chest and we shared our first hello. After all of that waiting, she was finally here. Delicate and beautiful. My perfect baby girl.
I, on the other hand, was hurting. I could feel where I had torn and the after pains were more fierce than I expected. Pam issued the standard uterus massage (read rubbing your belly way too hard for what you’ve just been through) to help stop the bleeding and I worked on getting Evelyn latched on. Her brother had been ferociously tongue-tied, but she seemed to be doing fine. After the chord stopped pulsing, Bryan cut it and then I delivered the placenta. Evelyn had a hard time crying, and Pam had to siphon part of the mucous plug out of her throat. But she was fine. And, after some skin to skin, they did the newborn exam. She was 8 lbs, which was hard to believe because she looked so tiny. (At least to me, Othniel had been 9lb 6oz.)
Overall, the birth was beautiful. There were no complications other than my expectations, which seems like a good life lesson for me. Maybe my first labor felt easier because I had no expectations. I was only along for the ride.